Valentines From Loveville Come Postmarked With Love

Charlie Sakran made the 20-minute drive from his home in Mechanicsville to the small post office in this St. Mary's County community -- a simple trailer -- to secure a special postmark for an important piece of mail that needed to go out this week. 

The 78-year-old could have just handed the card to the recipient, his wife of 44 years, Violet, at home. 

But the Sakrans -- and generations in Southern Maryland and around the country -- have been sending each other valentines from Loveville for years.

"It's my once-a-year trip to Loveville," Sakran said. 

The Loveville post office, with only about 300 regular postal customers, is one of 37 romantically named branches across the United States -- from Bridal Veil, Oregon, to Venus, Florida; from Loving, N.M., to Bliss, New York -- that are allowed to use locally designed, love-themed Valentine's Day postmarks for holiday mail. 

In Loveville, that postmark -- the 2017 version features a big heart, with cupids on either side -- draws an annual stream of visitors, and packages containing stacks of pre-addressed, pre-stamped mail to be canceled and sent out. 

Ellynne Brice Davis, a retired music teacher in nearby Leonardtown, brought valentines last week to send to her husband and granddaughter and friends in Japan and Italy. 

"It's part of the culture of the area," she said. 

Some of the branches redesign their postmarks annually; others stay with same design year after year. Some send tens of thousands of valentines each year; others do only dozens. In some areas, it's mostly a local tradition; others send more cards out of state and overseas. 

Valentine, Texas, holds an annual design contest in the local schools. Elvis Durango, a senior in the Valentine Independent School District, beat a dozen other entrants this year with a postmark that features a pair of rolling hilltops, a heart-shaped sun and the words "LOVE STATION."

"The kids enjoy it, and we usually kind of make a little plaque and present them with it to show them our appreciation," Postmaster Leslie Williams said. 

The Loveland, Colorado, Chamber of Commerce boasts that "the Sweetheart City" of roughly 75,000 is swamped with more than 130,000 valentines each year. The chamber organizes the Valentine's Day postmarking program and also hosts a business decorating contest. 

The Heart Butte Post Office in Montana attracts mostly valentines from out of state -- just a hundred or so each year -- to be canceled and mailed back out of state, Postmaster Relief Carol Bunyan said. 

"Hardly anybody local does that," she said. "It's a very small community. Most of the people in this community don't even mail valentines. If they're doing valentines, they probably hand them out."

That's not the case in Loveville. 

A line formed inside the trailer one morning last week, with several local residents clutching stacks of red, pink and white envelopes to be postmarked for girlfriends and boyfriends, wives, husbands, children, grandchildren and others. 

The longtime tradition is cause for pride in the tiny, unincorporated community, named for long-ago postmaster and attorney A. Kingsley Love. 

The Sakrans have been exchanging Loveville-postmarked valentines for more than 40 years, Charlie Sakran said. When he saw one arrive for him last week, he knew he'd better get Violet's in the mail soon, so she would receive it before Feb. 14. 

"At this point, she would be upset if she did not," he said. 

Hours at the Loveville Post Office were reduced a few years ago from eight hours a day to four, according to Shawn Guy. He's postmaster of the Leonardtown Post Office, which means he oversees operations in Loveville, too. 

He said the cut in hours and the advent of instant digital communication have reduced the Valentine's Day load in Loveville since the 1990s, when it used to send more than 10,000 each year, he said. 

Still, Loveville continues to receive a steady flow of valentines for re-mailing from senders outside Maryland. Packages arrived this year from Massachusetts, Alabama and Canada. 

Guy said residents take pride in their small town's amorous name. Many families, including his, have lived in the area for generations. 

"It really means a lot to the community here to be from Loveville," he said. 

The special postmark is available year-round upon request. It has become increasingly popular among engaged couples looking to add some pizazz to their wedding invitations -- a market that has now far outstripped valentine-senders, Guy said.

"People are looking for that little something extra for wedding invitations and valentines, to make it just a little more special," he said. 

Rene DePuy, 52, of La Plata, mailed a stack of 101 invitations from Loveville this week for the May 6 wedding of her daughter, Adrianna DePuy, to Shane Cleaveland. 

"When I got married 30 years ago, I did it," she said. "It's just really cute."

It's cheap, too. The postmark is free on up to 50 envelopes; the Postal Service charges 5 cents per postmark after that. 

Those who want to save the trip can mail their pre-addressed and pre-stamped valentines in a box or large envelope to Postmaster, Valentine re-mailing, 27780 Point Lookout Road, Loveville, MD, 20656. 

When the line died down, Matt Boggs used the time to spread out dozens of the envelopes on a table and postmark them one by one. In his first Valentine's Day season as the Loveville Post Office clerk, he estimated he's done hundreds, but perhaps not yet 1,000. 

"It hasn't gotten that bad yet," he said Wednesday. "Everyone says it's going to."

While most people outside the area mail theirs in, Boggs said, some do make the trip. 

"I'm astonished at how far people drive sometimes," he said. "It caught me off-guard. I guess they just have different sensibilities." 

Eli Stauffer owns the property on Route 5 on which the post office trailer and a family-owned small engine repair business sit. 

In recent years, he said, the rush to get the Loveville postmark for Valentine's Day has caused minor traffic snarls, with cars overflowing from the small gravel parking lot onto both sides of Stauffer's long driveway. 

"When it gets busy here, that whole driveway is full," he said. "There's probably been as many as 30 cars here at one time."

Alice Lavender, 83, of Leonardtown, could have just sent her 16 or 17 cards to friends or family in the regular mail. But why not spice them up a bit? 

"I think it's real neat," she said. "People who get them say, 'Oh, isn't this neat? Where is this place?'"

Rose Beitzell, 80, of Coltons Point said she was sending hers to her children and grandchildren in Pennsylvania and Maryland. 

"They wouldn't think it's Valentine's Day if they didn't get one," she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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